drinks


Shopfront

Shopfront

Last post on Guatemala to provide some closure. Fernando’s Kaffee was really difficult to find, thanks to limited language skills and nonexistent map read abilities. Oh, and the fact that cafe hopping seem to be a gringo thing doesn’t help when I ask the locals for directions because they don’t know where it is. Thankfully I persevered, and after wandering around haplessly for a good half hour finally arrived at the cafe. The small shop is cozy, with a dark front room set up with the espresso machine and pastry displays opening up into a very cozy courtyard with tables set around a lush garden. I could have spent all day just sitting in that garden reading a book or surfing the web, wifi enabled.

Fernando's espresso

Fernando's espresso

 Of course, I would also order a drink, an espresso in fact. The owner, Fernando, is a coffee fanatic and roasts his own coffee on-site for extreme freshness. The double espresso I sampled was testament of his fervor, impossibly smooth with a beautiful golden crema and fragrant aroma. As a souvenir, I also brought home a few packs of hand peeled, home made chocolate covered cacao beans, each enrobed in a dark, bitter sweet chocolate and packed with crunchy, nutty cacao bean segments. The spicy version, where the chocolate has been spiked with pepper is especially addictive and gone in minutes once I brought it back to the office to my ravenous coworkers, so I am excited to hear that Fernando is planning to start an e-commerce site with global shipping too!

Fernando’s Kaffee

7 Avenida Norte No. 43D

www.fernandos-kaffee.com/index.html

 

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Seedlings

Seedlings

I had no lack of coffee in Guatemala, where I spent mornings waking up to the fragrant aroma of coffee at our little B&B, Casa Madeleine, and refueled in the afternoons at the numerous coffee shops in Antigua. Coffee is Guatemala’s most prominent export, and since I was at the source of my favorite libation, I decided to spend some time visiting a coffee plantation.  Finca Filadelfia, located just outside the city limits of Antigua is not your typical small scale cooperative farm. Instead it is a sizeable commercial operation set in a very lush and plush estate, complete with its own hotel. Besides the coffee tour, the plantation also offer horse rides and zip-line excursions for the more adventurous. Me? I was content sitting in the tour trucks that resembled open-air military vehicles going through the grounds.

It was an intimate tour perhaps due to the intermittent rain, with just me, 2 Israeli men who also happened to live in New York during a point in their lives and our very chatty, very enthusiastic guide J. We watched grafted coffee plantlings grow undisturbed inside enclosed tents, learnt the differences between robusta and arabica plants and picked out coffee beans (and discovered worms in the overripe ones). Inside the processing facility, we were quizzed about the hows and whys of coffee selection, grading and roasting. Of course, we also spent time sipping espressos afterwards as we shared our own experiences drinking, cooking, burning those precious beans. I left thoroughly impressed by the sheer number of steps it takes for the coffee to end up in our cups and the entire tour operation, to the point that I then steered about 10 more friends to take the tour in the following days.

http://www.rdaltoncoffee.com/


img_3610Its only my second day in Beaune, and I already understand that everything here is about wine. The town is surrounded by wineries, the layout of this medieval town is such that every third or fourth shop is a wine shop and wine caves and cellars lined with walls and walls of wine bottles make up an alternative underground city. On this weekend, vinophiles go extra-wild as it is La Vente des Vins, an annual festival celebrating, what else but the famous Burgundian wines. The festival revolves around Les Trois Glorieuses, three events happening in Beaune this weekend: the grand tasting meal at the prestigious Chateau du Clos du Vougeot, the multi-million dollar wine auction benefitting the Hospice de Beaune and La Paulee, the most drunken BYOB lunch imaginable. While P and I did not participate in these events, we still had a glorious time literally soaking in the bacchanalian good cheer, voluntarily stuffing ourselves like force fed geese with wine and food. 

img_3658

Wine is the first order of business. We are in wine soaked Burgundy after all. We took an informative wine appreciation lesson at Sensation Vins, where the instructor patiently went through the essentials of Burgundian wines and guided us wine novices through a blind tasting of 6 wines. The lessons about terroir were a truly a little more than over our heads, but we walked out more confident about wine tasting abilities and tested them out at the wine caves later on. Upon our instructor’s recommendation, we then found ourselves at Maison Bouchard Aine & Fils, a venerable wine merchant since 1746 for a cheese and wine degustation. For an hour, we took its “tour of the five senses”, where it converted some of its musty underground cellars into interactive classrooms to showcase the sound, sight, taste, touch and scent of wine. We also tasted 11 wines in a tasting glass we got to keep as a souvenir, including multiple grand crus and a Corton Grand Cru almost as old as my dad. The cheeses were all local and we fell in love with the Citeaux cheese, a raw, runny and funky smelling cheese made by monks of the Abbaye de Citeaux. Now to find it and smuggle it back home.

Next up, the food of Beaune….

Sensation Vin

http://www.sensation-vin.com/en/

Bouchard Aine & Fils

http://www.en.bouchard-aine.fr/index.php?p=365

With time to spare before or after church on the UES, I’ve found myself, thanks to Karen’s recommendation, headed towards Nespresso’s boutique on Madison Avenue for a cup of coffee. Unlike your neighborhood coffee shop, the cafe is part of an international luxury brand of coffee shops showcasing, besides the coffee, its ultra-modern coffee machines. The samples are cups of coffee patrons unfortunately still have to pay exorbitant amounts for, but thankfully they are expertly made with one’s choice of roast ranging from the fully astringent to the very mild-bodied. Experts may be able to taste the difference between the different blends, but for now, I’m just content lounging on one of the comfortable seats, sipping my foamy cappuccino while simultaneously munching on good but overpriced pastries. At $10 for a cap and a canele, its a good thing I don’t live nearby.

Nespresso is the upscale brand amongst the stable of Nestle brands, complete with branches on Madison Avenue and Champs Elysees and an ad campaign featuring George Clooney. It is admirable how successful the price discrimination exercise has been, that no one upon entering the Nespresso boutique would associate it with the chocolate bar or 3-in-1 coffee Nestle is known for. In fact, the line of cleanly designed coffee machines and the shiny aluminum capsules filled with different coffee blends that line the back wall whispers luxury, discernment and worldliness. It also sends subliminal messages such as “Buy me, buy me” to my brain. Indeed, if I’m not careful, I’m going to end up with a brand new machine and a box of multi-hued coffee capsules.  

Nespresso Boutique Bar

761 Madison Ave (Between 65th & 66th Sts)

http://www.nespresso.com/precom/contact/index_boutique_us_en.html?ref=NewYork2

zibetto macchiatoI know I’m my father’s daughter when coffee became my nightcap of choice. I’m far from addicted, largely due to the scarcity of drinkable coffee near the workplace, but on weekends when I’m not limited to Starbucks in the office, I’ve cultivated go-tos where I down an easy dozen cups per weekend. One of my midtown go-to happens to be Zibetto. It is a sliver of a shop space stuck in an unglamorous part of 6th Ave, serving just coffee and pastries. There are no seats, no wifi, and the bar is tight as can be. It is not a space to linger, nor does the proprietor encourage you to do so. But the shots of espresso (Danesi beans) are expertly pulled, the crema thick and always a consistent shade of tan. I like my espresso marked with a little foamed milk, aka a caffe macchiato, the foam providing an illusion of cream, making the drink even more delectable and sinful then it is. And the coffee at Zibetto is never bitter and overdrawn, goes down smoothly and leaves a tingly sensation on my tongue. A delightful tingle with each shot, that lasts till I walk the rest of the way home.  

Zibetto Espresso Bar

1385 6th Ave (Between 56th & 57th Sts)

tafu - maccha latte

Tafu: I’ll admit it, the first drink I had at Tafu was the “shiny slim”. How could the name “shiny slim” not appeal to me, a distant hope that by drinking the tea, fats will miraculously fall off my frame, while my hair exudes health and glossiness? Even if that was not the case though, I will still be back at Tafu in a heartbeat for that aromatic genmaicha, with its brown rice and green tea mixture emitting a nutty smell, a delicate bitterness and fresh grassy taste. An at $2.50 a pop, its probably a good substitute for my bad cappuccino at Starbucks. On a return trip I tried an iced matcha latte that was refreshing but a tad too sweet. Service in this take-out only Japanese tea shop is slow but attentive given how each cup of tea is brewed to order and given time to steep. And sweet were the samples of the tea-centric desserts, in particular the richly flavored tea-spiked cheesecakes, but it might be a while before I muster up $4.50 for a sliver.

eileen’s pumpkin cheesecake

A personal cheesecake at Eileen’s Special Cheesecake is the perfect afternoon treat after a failed attempt to visit the Docomodake exhibition. Located on the fringe of soho and chinatown on cleveland place (possibly the shortest street in the neighborhood), Eileen’s is unapologetically old-fashioned, with Eileen herself serving at the counter and addressing me as sweetie. I chose a mini pumpkin cheesecake befitting of the season and dug into the softened cheesecake that was not too sweet and redolent of earthy pumpkin flavors. The cake was not as heavy as the ones from cheesecake factory or Juniors, meaning one could eat more before feeling sick. The loosely packed graham crust was fresh and buttery, and also far better than Junior’s cheesecake’s sponge cake base.

market table

Market Table is less than 2 months old, but it already feels like a Village fixture. Performing double duty as both a neighborhood fancypants grocery store and a restaurant, one can buy a vacuum packed meal home (just heat and serve) if the wait is unbearable. By 7.30pm on Saturday, walk-in waits averaged 2 hours, so it was fortunate that I had a reservation, and even managed to wrangle 2 additional seats to my party. Whilst Dolly and I waited for our expanded table and her friends, the chef saw me dangling forlornly on the lone bar stool in the grocery section, took pity and approached us with house cured gravlax wrapped around 4 tiny pretzel sticks as a pre-dinner snack. Crunchy, slightly salty, a little chewy, this washed down well with my pinot noir. The menu is small and focused on American comfort food and traditional sounding dishes were so well done you could not accuse them of being boring. We shared a fried calamari appetizer where the batter was light and the calamari fresh. But it was the battered lemon slices that was maintained its citrusy but slightly bitter bite and pungent anchovy fillets thrown in the mix that caught me off-guard in a great way. Roasted chicken was simply but perfectly cooked with the skin nice and crisp while the meat retained its juices. The sweet potato dice with aromatic maple butter and toasted hazelnuts is a great side and has a high chance of featuring at our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner should I manage to recreate it. With efficient and affable service, expansive floorlength windows looking out on a great Village streetscape, reasonable prices and good food that won’t shock but similarly wouldn’t bore one to tears, go make a reservation soon before Market Table truly becomes impossible to get into.

Tafu (569 Lexington Ave, on 51st St), www.tafuny.com

Eileen’s Special Cheesecake (17 Cleveland Pl), www.eileenscheesecake.com

Market Table (54th Carmine St, at Bedford), www.markettablenyc.com

Peishan was in town this weekend and we took the opportunity to eat and drink excessively. Of the various edibles that made the trip through our digestive systems, I’ll like to highlight a couple locally produced, proud to be New York specialties.

1) Locally produced wine sorbet using New York State wines from Wine Cellar Sorbets. I bought it at Dean & DeLuca ($7.50/ pint) a week in advance knowing this is something TPS the wine afficionado will appreciate. She did! In fact she polished most of the sorbet for breakfast =p We loved the pleasingly smooth cabernet sauvignon slush that dyed our tongues a deep violet while the fresh clean riesling was unfortunately a little too sweet and too subtle. Nevertheless a good palate cleanser And at 5% alcohol, the sorbets provided just a little buzz. A sugar high and a mini wine high… needless to say we happily dug in.

2) Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, which we found at Vintage wine bar, a soho bar specializing again in New York state wines and other drinks. We werent even intending to visit this place, but I swear TPS can instinctually sniff out every local bar in town when she wants to. The stout is a beautiful burnished brown, and smelt like molasses and chocolate. Drinking it, I can pretend it was snowing outside while I sit next to a fireplace sipping my beer. And at an alcoholic content of 10.6% I sure was feeling toasty. Better yet if I had some chocolate cake by my side. The chocolate stout is only brewed during the winter season, so grab some before it runs out! This stout, together with the highly drinkable lager that I sell at the cafe makes me, hardly a drinker toying with the idea of visiting the brewery, located just across the river in Brooklyn.

3) Another Brooklyn transplant making Manhattan a better place is Junior‘s for their famous cheesecake. There are two branches in the city, both in hyper-touristy areas (Grand Central Station & Times Square) but prices are honest, portions are enormous and the cakes really ain’t bad. In fact, the rich slab of plain cheesecake was really good! The chocolate and the carrot cakes got my vote too but I was really glad the plain cheesecake was located strategically in front of me for easy access. I wasn’t as fond of the gloppy blueberry topping on the fruit cake, nor the artificial tasting strawberry shortcake cheesecake but they too had their fans. While we only had room for 5 slices between the 8 of us that night, I have no doubt I will be returning soon to try out the entire dessert menu. You can also have standard deli fare at both locations, but dessert really is the star. So for visitors with a sweet sweet tooth, why not end your day in the flashiest way, with dessert in Times Square?